Cadets defend against NSA cyberattacks

Robert Jenkins has wanted to defend our country since high school and went on to land himself a prestigious spot at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But in this digital age he has learned that there is a lot more to protecting Americans than he realized.

"Nowadays, people's social media contains lot of their personal information and at any point if any of that gets taken or hacked or something like that, a lot of their information gets taken away and we definitely have to make sure we practice good cyber security," Jenkins said.

This week, Jenkins and his fellow cadets are competing against four other service academies (U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, and Royal Military College of Canada) in the 17th annual Cyber Defense Exercise. All the participating teams are working from rooms at their respective academies to defend computer networks they've built against attacks orchestrated by the NSA.

"Cyber is like the number one security concern now and so doing real-life exercises like this sponsored by the NSA, them really attacking us definitely makes a difference," said Mitchell DeRidder, a cadet and team leader.

The cadets' head coach believes this competition is of growing importance. As the cyber world expands its role in our everyday lives so do all the risks that come with it.

"On the Internet, there's roughly 7 billion potential attackers," said Major Michael Petullo, the head coach. "They all have in a certain sense equal access to the system that you've placed on the network, whether it's your cell phone or whether it's a server a bank is using to buy banking services."

It has been an extra meaningful experience for Jenkins because his job after graduation this spring will be to manage cyber Army networks at Fort Drum in New York. He is cautious about what lies ahead, but he is feeling ready now that he has dealt with a cyberattack firsthand.

"It is a little intimidating because we get to see some of the power in the NSA does have, and some of the capabilities and how good they are what they do," Jenkins said.

The competition runs through April 14, when the winner will be announced.

In 2016, West Point cadets won the trophy for putting up the best cyber-defense. They're hoping to achieve that title again this year. They've won 8 times before.